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Words Are Not Enough

Words Are Not Enough


Lawyers communicate in words all day long as a core part of our job. We explain, advise and document using words alone. We assume our clients understand what we’re trying to convey.  We consider ourselves experts in communication.  


What is the number 1 cause of claims against lawyers? - Poor Communication. If we, truly, were so good at communication, why would it cause the majority of claims against us.


What do most people do when they hear or read information? They convert those words into pictures in their minds. Take biographical information, for example. When we ask our client questions such as “Are you married? Do you have kids? What are their names? How old are they?” we’re creating a visual family tree in our minds. We don’t just see names, we see connections.   When clients are talking to us about dividing up their estates among their beneficiaries, they are likely visualizing a pie graph with percentages.   And how is the lawyer dealing with all this complex information? - no family tree, no pie chart- just words.


Like lawyers have been doing for 500 years, we ask our clients questions verbally and then we write down their answers in words.  And to make things worse, we keep our notes private. The client has no idea what we’ve just written down. They don’t even know if we spelled the names correctly. When the details get more complicated, like planning an estate, there can be a huge gap between what is intended to be communicated and what is actually understood.


The solution is what I call “Visual Collaboration”. In those moments of discussion, we should be visually communicating with our client, so both of us can actually see what we mean.  If the client can watch their instructions being implemented, using graphical visualization, errors relating to poor communication will drop significantly.  


e-State Planner is based on the concept of Visual Collaboration.  Using family trees, pie charts and graphic summaries, Will planning becomes a visual process, not just a collection of words.  


When it comes to client communication, words are not enough. 


To hear my short presentation “Words are not Enough” from the Law Society of Ontario’s 2020 The Six Minute Estate Lawyer Program, click here.

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